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Idaho Senate narrowly passes bill that would allow residents a six-month supply of contraceptives

The Idaho Senate chambers
Photo by Otto Kitsinger
The Idaho Senate chambers

After close 19-16 vote on the Senate floor, the legislation now heads to the Idaho House for consideration

The Idaho Senate on Thursday narrowly passed a bill to require insurance companies to cover six months supplies of contraceptives.

The Idaho Senate approved Senate Bill 1234 on a 19-16 vote. The bill would require insurance companies to provide up to a six-month supply of prescribed contraceptives to people covered. That would make it easier for women who can only access a one- or three-month supply through insurance, bill co-sponsor Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said on the Senate floor. Wintrow previously said it’s her third time pursuing such a bill.

Idaho Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, listens to action on the Senate floor at the State Capitol building in Boise on Jan. 9, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun) Idaho senators debated whether mandating this coverage from insurers was appropriate. As Wintrow opened debate on her bill, she argued it was.

Insurers haven’t opposed the bill, she said. And requiring all insurers to expand coverage together, instead of one insurer making the change, would avoid possibly destabilizing the market, she said.

“Some people have said we don’t like to interfere with business,” Wintrow said. “I get that. We do not want the heavy hand of the government to reach in and tell businesses and manufacturers and so forth what to do. But in this case, it’s the lightest touch.”

One-third of female contraceptive users missed taking their birth control because they couldn’t get their next supply in time, according to a 2022 survey by KFF, a health policy research group formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Opponents in Idaho Senate debate that private market should dictate the issue

Sens. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, and Dan Foreman, R-Viola, argued in floor debate that the private market should address the issue.

“I acknowledge we regulate business in certain contexts. But I don’t think we need to mandate in this context for convenience,” Lakey said. “If it’s a good thing, the free market can implement it.”

“I admit that that sounds like a good idea. But if it is a good idea, why isn’t it happening? Why don’t the customers go to their insurance companies and demand this type of increase in the service? That’s the way the private sector works. The government shouldn’t step in, unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Foreman said.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, asked a rhetorical question during the debate.

“How many of you have been able to go to your insurance company and ask for something to be changed? How many of you are dependent upon your employment for what kind of health insurance you and your family have? This is a regulated monopoly in this state,” Lee said.

And she suggested that male senators can find birth control “at any gas station or convenience store any day that you would like.”

“That is free market. That is your access. Men and women are different. That’s OK,” Lee said. “This is about access, and it is about convenience. But it is also about ensuring that there is some parity in this, and this is one step forward. It is not a high-cost prescription. It is not going to be onerous for these insurance companies.”

Sen. Chris Trakel, R-Caldwell said he supported the bill and would be excited to see an option for six months of supply for all medications. Trakel, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, said he appreciates his access to six-month supplies of medication through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But he said his wife, who has type 1 diabetes, has been forced to visit the emergency room when she ran out of insulin on a three-month supply.

Trakel said he understands “we don’t like to regulate private business,” but he said the bill offers an opportunity for people to not worry about being “chained” to a three-month supply and from worrying about whether they’d receive their medication on time when that supply runs out.

“Many of us here ran on medical freedom for individuals,” Trakel said.

Sen. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, raised a thick book of Idaho’s insurance regulations. He said he believes free markets work best when left to work out issues, but said in all states — including Idaho — insurance is an exception.

“There are certain industries that need to be regulated, and this is just a tiny drop of an increase in a little bit of regulation and it’s one that the insurance industry, as you’ve heard, welcomes,” Ruchti said.

Wintrow has said she has made changes to the legislation to address the concerns of insurance companies, anti-abortion groups and fellow legislators who previously opposed the legislation when it died on the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives in 2022.

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, said she supported the bill and appreciated Wintrow’s changes. Den Hartog said she wasn’t comfortable with a previous version of the bill that would’ve required 12 months of birth control coverage.

The bill now heads to the Idaho House, where it could have a full hearing with public testimony before the full House would consider it.

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